David Flatman: Bell's rope-a-dope tactic and Clarke's nosebleed are my season highlights

From the Front Row

Finishing the season while other sides are still going creates a bit of an anti-climax. Our absence from the play-offs serves to tint the cider-fuelled laments of the evening and, while happy to have qualified for the Heineken Cup next season, we remain an ever-so-slightly dissatisfied group. And this is good; a display of pure, real glee at finishing fifth would spell danger.

In this game one must be robust enough to take these things on the chin(s); as players we have only ourselves to blame. So with this collection of emotions put into a box in my mind marked "Don't Be Soft", it is possible to look back on some of the highlights – and lowlights – of the campaign.

In rugby, as in every sport, there are good times and there are bad. There are weeks when the team feels unbeatable, and weeks when nothing seems to gel. A few years ago, during a frankly vile week spent with a load of moustachioed Special Forces physical instructors in quite unacceptably short shorts, we were given one piece of information that has always stuck with me: "When the shit hits the fan, forget patterns, forget drills, it's your sense of humour that brings perspective, that gets you through." The proverbial turd has, as it does every season, hit the proverbial turbine once or twice this year and, consequently, there have been a few moments of real, retrospective gold.

When we at Bath travelled to play Northampton before Christmas, we ran into a team so rampant I think they would have beaten the All Blacks on the night, even if they'd had to play them straight after us. I was nursing a knock that night and tucked up all snug and warm on the sofa but, while watching on television, I spotted something I would later ask about. During a series of gruesome scrums where the Saints pack seemed to have the power of 20 men, I saw Duncan Bell mutter something to his fellow bookend, David Barnes.

It turns out that, having plucked his head from his own backside, Bell had turned to his pal and said: "Don't worry mate, I'm doing the old rope-a-dope, he won't know what's hit him this time."

Sometimes things just go wrong, it's how you deal with it that counts. In Danny Grewcock's last training session he did something quite unprecedented; he threw an overhead pass (which landed on the floor) and a flashy offload (same). Leading into our vital last match, and with all of our sponsors and upper management watching, the pressure was on. "Cock," I whispered to him, "it's a bit bloody late to go all flamboyant. Just stick to whacking stuff, eh?"

Were I to hand out a "Worst Trainer" of the year award there would be a tie. I'm not sure I saw Nick Abendanon or Butch James at the training ground this season, perhaps they got lost en route from the coffee shop. The problem with these two, though, was that they were probably our two best players. When asked by me – every day – what on earth he was doing at training, Butch invariably answered "free coffee, my boy". Nick tended to hate missing sessions so offered somewhat less quippy ripostes, but that didn't stop me asking.

Contrary to what you might expect, I would say the best team we played this year was the Exeter we faced at Sandy Park. We won the match, but only just. They weren't tough to play against because they had a gaggle of game breakers or because they were bigger and stronger than we were. No, they worked together and performed their individual roles better than anyone I've faced in a while. The front row hit scrums, hit rucks and hit people (Chris Budgen aside, who made about 35 ball carries that night and who has, quite rightly, been nominated for the prestigious RPA Players' Player of the Year).

The locks jumped, tackled and rucked. The back row – and what a back row – just careered around the field like Banshees on a mission, they were immense. And Gareth Steenson ran the show. What a set of blokes; we left the field that night with complete respect. One highlight of that match was the Chiefs' super-abrasive hooker and old friend Neil Clarke popping up from a scrum with a nosebleed asking: "Who the **** did that?" A reasonable question, but not one that garnered any answers. All the answer he needed was the smirk on the face of a team-mate, whose name escapes me, at the next lineout: "Nice to see you again, Clarkey," he said. Without offering too many compromising details, Mr Clarke enjoyed his quest for vengeance thereafter, and a nice pint with us all afterwards.

Inevitably, a season without trophies is a season lost. As professionals we are paid to win but, seeing as only one team can win each competition, we must develop methods for dealing with this disappointment.

In so many ways the game has changed but still we fight like bitter enemies, we work hard to undermine our opponents' efforts in public and, for 80 minutes each week, we want nothing more than the men facing us to fail in dramatic style, leaving us to perform laps of honour and to pat ourselves on the back. But, once the mud and blood is washed away, humility and camaraderie reigns, and we are brothers again. Until next time...

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn